There is a two pronged drug panic now in full swing, with the media calling for 'someting to be done' about mephedrone and methadone (Always get the journalist to spell it before you start rabbiting on about the wrong drug...)
I was up at 5.30am this morning in order to prepare for 5Live news at 6.00am to respond to the media furore regarding the deaths of two young people who had allegedly taken mephedrone. By 7.00 am I'd done eight interviews for local radio stations, warning of the dangers of rushing to make it illegal.
As ever the call is being driven by hysterical media hype (for example Telegraph Daily Mail The Sun and Guardian) about deaths of young people, none of which have unequivocally been linked exclusively to the use of mephedrone.
Leah Betts anyone?
Transform's call is three-fold:
- Calm down. A knee jerk response to classify may in fact increase harms, rather than reduce them. Mephedrone is not a threat to humanity or even a significant threat to the lives of users (we would have seen far more deaths if that were the case, given the high levels of use). Reduce the threat level to the correct proportions and begin to explore options. Recognise that the media massively over report illegal drug deaths, as opposed to all drug deaths, such as alcohol and tobacco, whose dangers are well known and demonstrably kill many more than mephedrone has (in relative or absolute terms).
- All drugs have dangers associated with their use. Put as much harm reduction information out there as we possibly can (knowledge of mephedrone is limited - here is a a decent guide to current knowledge).
- Recognise that criminalising drugs causes harms that may significantly outweigh any benefits. Conduct an independent and comprehensive impact assessment to explore all the options: do nothing, criminalise production, supply and posession, legally regulate its production and supply. Until that work is done, we cannot say which is the best option.
However, anecdotal evidence from Guernsey sugggests that the ban on importation there has pushed the price up from £10/gram to £60-80/gram and consequently acquisitive crime is now being committed by heavy users to fund their use/habit. Organised crime has taken over distribution (no guns on Guernsey, so samurai swords are the order of the day for fighting turf wars). This cannot possibly have made things better for the good citizens of Guernsey, and we would hope that (despite the differences between Guernsey and the UK) the Advisory Council take this evidence into account before recommending classification.
I also had a chat with The Times yesterday to try and give some balance to their anti-methadone line. It could have been worse (Leader Here and Feature Here)
What has been forgotten in the drive to turn the rhetoric of 'getting people off drugs' into reality, is some of the basics.
- The vast vast majority of problematic users are not ready to stop using. The question then is how do you we manage that fact and reduce the harm that they cause themselves and the wider community.
- Methadone is not just for 'getting people off drugs', even if it can help with that goal for some. It is primarily used to reduce the amount of injecting of street heroin. Its purpose is to improve individual and public health by reducing both offending (acquisitive crime or prostitution to support a habit) and prevalence of high risk injecting behaviours, and thereby reduce transmission of blood borne viruses.
Transform is working with partner organisations to counter this pernicious move to undermine opiate substitute prescribing in the UK.